In “An Evolutionary Theory of Dentistry” (Science, 25 May 2012), Ann Gibbons reports,
According to work presented at a recent meeting, human teeth, jaws, and mouths are not adapted in a healthy way to the diet of modern industrial society. We evolved to thrive on coarse seeds, nuts, tubers, fruit, and meat. The mismatch between our adaptations and our environment causes the dental cavities, overcrowding of teeth, overbite, and gum disease that run rampant today. A study of two Maya villages presented at the meeting offers before-and-after images of a population undergoing the so-called nutrition transition in which people switch from a traditional subsistence diet to an Industrial Age diet of refined sugars and processed foods. At the meeting, an unusual mix of paleoanthropologists, archaeologists, dental researchers, and food scientists explored what is known about the diets and dental health of ancient humans, and how that information might be useful to dentists today.
Most likely, humans evolved to eat anything we could get. Anyone who doubts this should consider what foods are considered delicacies in various cultures. Honey ants, anyone?
This story sounds like an attempt to “science up” and “evolution up” a persistent and ancient belief that our ancestors ate more wisely and enjoyed better health than we do. Some of us have heard six-day creationists make an identical argument about the diet that Adam and Eve are supposed to have enjoyed.
All maybe, but it is worth looking at world life expectancy before we decide that the Industrial Age is a villain to health. The Industrial Age makes a variety of choices available, for health or otherwise, instead of having our health outcome handed to us by the scarcity and limitations of our “wild” environment.
Full text paywalled.